At a White House briefing on Monday (Tuesday AEDT), United States coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases boss Anthony Fauci urged Americans to consult the new guidelines, based on Associate Professor Dalton’s paper.
“All of this came from a paper that Dr Fauci provided from the Australians,” Dr Birx said.
Associate Professor Dalton said “low cost” measures such as using tele-conferences for meetings, staggering group events to avoid crowding and ensuring those who could work from home did would not impact on productivity – while potentially saving the public health system from a surge in coronavirus cases that could threaten hospital capacity.
Without such action, he said, there was a risk that severe cases would not be able to access critical care when they needed it.
“It certainly happened in China and that’s one of the reasons they think the case fatality rate was so high in the early weeks, was that they were just so overwhelmed before they began getting control of the spread of the virus that care suffered.”
Dr Fauci said the advice, to be uploaded to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, would cover how to minimise the risk of contracting the disease in the home, the workplace and while travelling.
“These are really simple, low-tech things,” Dr Fauci said.
“There is nothing in there that is complicated. It’s just stated in a way that is clear, that people can understand.”
In his research paper, Associate Professor Dalton outlined measures to reduce social contacts in the workplace, saying video-conferencing should be the “default for meetings”, with crowds to be avoided through rescheduling, staggering and cancelling group events.
“Hold necessary meetings outside in open air if possible,” the paper said.
“Staff with ill household contacts should stay at home … [All staff should] work from home where possible and consider staggering of staff where there is no loss of productivity from remote work.”
Those who did come into the office should avoid hand-shaking, observe cough etiquette and eat lunch at their desks instead of in a lunch room, it said, with “enforced sanitation of hands” at the building’s entrance and “regular hand sanitation schedule reminders via email”.
Schools should implement supervised hand sanitation and “defer activities that lead to mixing between classes and years”, the paper said, with a “strict stay at home policy if ill”.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt said the government would continue to follow the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee chaired by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
Professor Murphy said restrictions on public gatherings, such as those implemented by the Italian government, were not yet necessary as “we’re not at that stage”.
“If we had more sustained community transmission, then we wouldn’t hesitate to make recommendations about public gatherings, about schools and the like,” he told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
“We only have that one episode of fairly limited community transition in Ryde. I can imagine how the doctor in Ryde who’s been in the thick of that would feel pretty motivated to do more strenuous measures. But we are reviewing this every single day.”
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.